Former 2nd Vice President, Nigeria Bar Association, (NBA), Monday Onyekachi Ubani has applauded the justices of the Supreme Court for quashing the decision of a trial court that convicted the former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu.
The human rights activist said that the judgement of the Supreme Court was sound and there was no basis to criticise it except on sentimental basis. “It cannot be faulted legally,” he said.
According to Ubani, jurisdiction which formed the basis for overturning the decision is a threshold issue and either a court has one or it does not have it. “Whenever the issue of jurisdiction is raised even if for the first time at the Supreme Court and found to be lacking, the Supreme Court will and has always nullified such trial,” he said.
He stated that the people that drafted and inserted the section that permits a trial judge that has been elevated to continue with the trial at the trial court meant well, but they should have also persuaded the amendment of the constitution by the legislature on the issue of the jurisdiction.
“This omission is very grave and anyone defending that the amendment should have been allowed to stand even after offending the constitution is very strange argument. Jurisdiction is key to every case in Nigeria, nay in the world,” Ubani said.
In his words, the truth of the matter is that the trial court erred seriously in the handling of Orji’s matter which has led to the nullification of the conviction and sentence secured by the trial judge.
He said, “Recall that one Justice Mohammed Idris who is now at the Court of Appeal was the trial judge at the Federal High Court Ikoyi of the criminal trial of Senator Orji Kalu. In the course of trial that lasted several years, about 12 years he was subsequently elevated to the Court of Appeal. Orji’s trial appeared stalled until the President of of the Court Appeal invoked a section of the Administration of Criminal Act, 2015 that empowered her to grant a fiat to the learned Judge to go back to the Federal High Court to conclude the trial which he dutifully did that led to Orji’s conviction and sentence.
“At the Supreme Court the noble learned Justices held that the judge who concluded the trial had no jurisdiction as the said fiat he was given to conclude the trial was inconsistent with the provision of the constitution that a judge of the court of appeal cannot “descend” to also be a judge of the Federal High Court.
“In other words, the composition of the trial court was at variance with the provision of the constitution that gives jurisdiction to the Federal High Court. The meticulous eyes of the judges of the supreme court saw the aberration and did not hesitate to so hold.
“What the judgment said is that the trial of Orji and others should start at the Federal High Court before a different and new judge assigned by the Chief Judge of that court De Novo (from beginning).
“The Prosecution, EFCC should assemble all its witnesses once again and be prepared to commence trial afresh after the Chief judge has assigned the case to a new judge entirely. The judgement did not say that Orji is acquitted and discharged from the offence of the alleged fraud. He still have to face his trial anew.
“For Senator Orji Uzo Kalu, this is a temporary relief and if he succeeds in defending himself successfully over the allegation of fraudulent misappropriation of Abia’s treasury, it will be hossanna for him and his co-accused. We will as usual follow up this case until it is finally disposed off either way, and believe me it will still end at the Supreme Court if EFCC is serious with their threat! It shall be well with Nigeria!”